Geoff Johns talked about following the rules of Watchmen with Doomsday Clock, his new series with Gary Frank inspired by Watchmen that brings the characters into the DC Universe. Presumably not the one that says "don't do a sequel to Watchmen". Or the one that says "create something brand new" and gather a new set of tools for telling comic book stories. But he's right, there were formulated rules for storytelling in the series which Doomsday Clock is playing off. It's not just nine-panel grid – though it is that as well. Let's have a look.
Rule One: The front cover is the first panel of the story. Every issue. So the very first issue has the smiley face button resting in blood…
Up and up and up it goes. But the journey began with that front cover as the first panel. As it does with every issue of the series. So how does Doomsday Clock do it? Well… with issue one, it doesn't. You get this scene.
With the crowd protesting against Adrian Veidt. The Watchmen first cover eschewed any actual human faces, just the iconic smiley image, sitting in human blood, an arresting idea, that seems to be absent here. The comic then moves inside…
But rather than be the first panel of the progression on the inside, it's more like the third panel. So from the very first image, the Rules Of Watchmen are broken. It's not looking good, Geoff. Note that the progression, like the first page of Watchmen, is to pan back, and the layout of the nine-panel grid is replicated on the first page, with the narration from Rorschach's journal playing a similar role.
But note that the progression, like the first page of Watchmen, is to pan back, and the layout of the nine-panel grid is replicated on the first page, with the narration from Rorschach's journal playing a similar role. The first page of Doomsday Clock mirrors the first page of Watchmen #1 directly and in detail, and also begins with The End.
Just as with the first panel of Watchmen, Doomsday Clock starts with a date, seven years after the original Watchmen was set. It's a date that Johns says is important to DC Comics, we identified it as the weekend after the release of Superman #75, the Death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday. The comic is called Doomsday Clock, it has been sold as a comic in which Superman meets Dr Manhattan and it may play into his DC Rebirth storylines, with the mysterious figure who has manipulated his timeline and his life. Oh and the Superman shield on the Doomsday Clock is telling.
But for a comic that was focused on watches, and time, Rorschach is very indeterminate about that in that first panel. His the original "The End Is Nigh" sign is now "The End Is Here" which is a little on the nose. The first page of Watchmen is also notable for hiding the big star in the first page, holding the sign, only much later revealed as Rorschach. Could one of these people we see also be Rorschach? A new Rorschach? Or Dr Manhattan? Or someone else?
The second panel begins repeated words and lines from Watchmen, so "the streets are extended gutters" becomes "these streets were littered with bodies", reflecting the original but losing the wordplay with the comic book form, gutters being the spaces between panels in which everything actually happens.
But for 1992, the words used are very 2017. Panel three has "Undeplorables", "echo chamber", "make America safe again", for this is a world which may have elected President Trump in 1992. Was he a Democrat then? Either way, the language of now is suddenly the language of then.
But 1992 still reflects the opening scene of 1985, "burst stomach" becomes "slit open the world's belly", "liberals, intellectuals and smooth talkers" becomes those for whom "tolerance is a one way street" and the apocalyptic scenes of vermin and foaming accumulated filth, now as cockroaches fighting maggots
The first page of Watchmen also gave us the first Veidt logo, on a truck, so much was set up in those first glimpses of the world. Here Veidt Industries is a little more prominent. Maybe we won't know how much has been hidden until later.
Page two of Doomsday Clock reflects far less the second page of Watchmen, but there are some notes, the layout is the mirror image of the nine-panel grid, the first panel of both show a broken window, with the Doomsday Clock sot of the brick also mirroring the boot through the door in Watchmen, showing the paused singular action, a common image in Watchmen. The second panel of both show bursting open doors, the central panels of both pages have a sign in the same place, but now it begins to be a stretch. We can see the remnants of Ozymandias and his pleasure dome, for Adrian is gone, a policeman/guard shooting a protestor in the back and falling into a pool, the same pool that Ozymandias arranged a protestor to try and assassinate him, to give him cover, Has this equally been arranged by Adrian for some as yet unknown reason?
But the rest continues the multi-media approach that Veidt first relied on to see the world through a fly's kaleidoscopic eye.And this continues up and above the Veidt tower as the mob make their way in. The chair through the window also echoes the original Watchmen opening. And then we have the reason for the mob, the New York Gazette has run the story, sourced from Rorschach's journal that Veidt was behind the whole plot. This, of course, raises questions, the journal was in the hands of The New Frontiersman, in a scene reminiscent of the ending of Kind Hearts And Coronets. Although in this case that would mean Nixon would be taking the blame… But the information was without Veidt's big revelations, how did the New York Times get the journal, how did they work out that if Veidt was responsible for some people's deaths, he was also responsible for the three million deaths? There is a massive leap which indicates something else was going on. And also the journal has been stolen. In other teases, we see it has come to Batman. Did Manhattan send it there, to the Batcave, as he may have done the smiley face button? And we move from Ozymandias' New York Tower to his arctic home that saw the Watchmen denouement.
And the Watchmen are gone.
This all indicates that the world has fallen to hell as Veidt's lie has been exposed, is that a reason for Manhattan to return to Earth? Or other Earths? So we get to revisit old Watchmen sets, Veidt's bank of monitors continuing to show the world's news and culture, now becoming monocultural as the state takes control. And we get a scene straight from the 1976 Network as the fictitious newsreader character Howard Beale, who made an impromptu appeal to the viewers before being fired. Because he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.
Here's that scene from Network for comparison.
Before Watchmen showed us that Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver is a character in the Watchmen universe, so why not Howard Beale? We have been told that Watchmen crossing over with the DC Universe will also tackle the Watchmen observation that Superman was a fictitious character in the Watchmen universe, superhero comics outdone by the real thing and replaced by pirate stories.
If that is a tumour from Adrian Veidt, that also suggests the idea that maybe, yes maybe, Veidt was behind the leak all along, the seriousness of it being taken up by the New York Gazette and extra information they needed, leaked to them. If Adrian is on the way out, was he planning on taking the world with him? Or is it a signal to be picked up by Dr Manhattan that he is needed again? In Watchmen, Veidt created tumours in others to frame Dr Manhattan, is he doing the same with himself now?
So who is replacing Howard Beale? Why, William F Buckley.
William Frank Buckley Jr. was an American conservative author and commentator who founded National Review magazine in 1955, which had a major impact in stimulating the conservative movement, hosted the long running TV show Firing Line (1966–1999), wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column and many spy novels. Credited with moving the national conversation and preparing the way for the likes of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan, he was anti-communist, pro free market, anti-civil rights movement. And now a propaganda tool of the state. A fictional character replaced by a real one – but is this presented state-controlled figure just as fictional as Howard Beale? The transfer from the previous page to this does suggest that William Buckley is a tumour. Who will cut him out?
Oh, hello Rorschach.
The scenes from the bars recall the prison scenes in Watchmen, the bars working as panel gutters in comics and the characters finding their way through the gutters. But just as with Rorschach's line about him not being stuck with prisoners, but them being stuck with him, so who is on what side of the bars and what that means for their life, liberty and happiness is up for debate.
And we see the world return to the way it was going towards the end of Watchmen, with Russia now invading Poland, just as it withdrew from Afghanistan in 1985.
And the sixth page of Doomsday Clock #1 is back with its direct Watchmen reflections, featuring the first full-on appearance of the narrator of this comic, Rorschach. Remember, this may not necessarily be Walter Kovacs, disintegrated by Dr Manhattan, anyone can wear the mask.
Being very similar to the sixth page of Watchmen, also featuring the fellow in the same page layout, lettering banner, even down to the breaking of the nine-panel grid for one page. Because rules are made to be broken. But Doomsday Clock is happier breaking them when Watchmen broke them first. The Annihilated Place is from the Ozymandias poem, by Horace Smith, a friend of Shelley, written by each at the same time about the same subject, deliberately. Shelley's gained the fame, Smith's did not. Is this Geoff Johns' way of painting himself as Horace Smith, compared to Alan Moore's Shelley? Moore's quote is, instead, from Bob Dylan's Desolation.
And yes, he's always hungry. Go find some cold baked beans… so what else?
Copyright renewal? The Watchmen focus on time and time pieces continues. Watch in Watchmen, Clock in Doomsday Clock…
It's been stolen, Batman, maybe you should give it back?
Supping with the devil. The two smartest men in the world? What did they do thirty-seven minutes ago anyway? Ozymandias and Superman… and does it involve this fellow?